Local TV broadcasters’ digital political ad opportunity


Reed VarnerIndustry experts and market watchers agree: The 2012 elections promise to set new records for ad spending, with broadcast television leading the field of recipients.

However, as digital media outlets gain in prominence, their relatively meager budgets are beginning to add up.  Local-advertising research firm Borrell Associates projects online outlets, as a stand-alone category at least, will receive as much as $160 million from campaigns and political action committees (PACs) in the 2012 campaign season. A recent issue of Advertising Age cited estimates that campaigns were poised to spend as much as 10% of their total ad budgets on digital buys–a big jump from the roughly 5% of budgets spent for congressional races in 2010.

Many digital publishers and agencies will compete for those dollars.  No doubt Facebook and Google will get their share. According to Kate Kaye, author of “Campaign 08:  A Turning Point for Digital Media,” the Obama 2008 campaign spent somewhat less than 5% of its total ad budget – about $20 million – on digital outlets, with Google vacuuming up 45% of that.

But there’s little reason to doubt local TV stations’ websites are well positioned to take a significant share of 2012 digital political dollars – just as their over-the-air counterparts will certainly do with the more traditional ad spend.

However, digital advertising is about targeting – a topic near and dear to any political strategist. Stations can make the case that their websites are targeted to reach the most politically informed, committed and active citizens in their DMAs and position their sites to earn an outsized share of the digital spend.

It’s no coincidence that a recent poll by the website Topix, in partnership with Equation Research, found that the Internet is second only to TV as a primary source of political information. The Web was cited by 68% of respondents, while TV was cited by 78%.

Importantly, 68% of respondents who indicated they are active in online political discussions said they would be more likely to pay attention to advertising on a site where they participate in political discussions and debate. And 40% said they would be more likely to see political advertising as credible when it appears on websites featuring both positive and negative commentary about candidates.

Local TV websites have been busily upgrading their ability to accommodate user-generated content, which might include not only comments but, for example, images and video from political events. These sites may well have an opportunity to position themselves to be leading digital “town squares” within their communities.  Broadcasters also have been upgrading their sites’ video capabilities, emphasizing a traditional strength of local TV sites: the ability to attract audiences hungry for professional-quality video coverage of local news and events. Increasingly, as Kaye notes, digital political advertising will take the form of high-quality video presentation. And local TV stations increasingly are adopting social connectivity – a sensible alliance, since local TV news providers share a common bond with a voter’s Facebook “friend”– namely, a well-deserved position of trust.

And, in a very practical sense, with the heavy spending expected on political ads this season, many broadcasters are finding their over-the-air inventory sold out.  Offering up targeted, effective digital inventory could capture some of those political dollars that would otherwise be lost.

Internet Broadcasting (IB) develops content-rich local websites specifically for TV stations—since 1996.  Today IB is the leading provider of digital publishing technology and services.  But what many readers may not know is that the IB Digital Agency is one of the largest digital advertising agencies, with 25,000 annual campaigns under management.  While IB creates ads, we do not buy or sell ad space – though we work hand-in-glove with the publishers, agencies and advertisers that do.

And among our fastest growing client categories are political campaigns and PACs. In fact, during the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, Internet Broadcasting announced its offerings to provide political and issue advocacy campaign advertisers with digital advertising that combine professional creative development and advanced voter targeting.  Our objective is to offer high-quality, video-embedded online creative to leverage the visual impact of TV, coupled with the flexibility to update a candidate’s message easily and quickly. We’ve had firsthand exposure to campaigns’ needs…and the season is heating up.

As RBR-TVBR readers know, by its very nature, political advertising requires agility and quick turnaround. Not surprisingly, campaigns and PACs demand these capabilities of their digital-campaign partners. Political ad buyers and sellers alike will be quick to remind TV station managers that when political season hits, it’s best to remain flexible and in regular communication – because therein lies the path to maximizing over-the-air political ad dollars.

Much the same holds true for maximizing digital political ad dollars. TV station website ad managers must work closely with buyers and their advertisers to set expectations about inventory, turnaround times, file specifications and other parameters.  Keep thinking of ways to streamline the process – for yourself and your clients.  Be flexible and agile. Increasingly, you’ll see campaign managers abruptly swap out video “on the fly.” If you can accommodate them consistently (quick turnaround), you should see recurring business. For example, in support of our clients’ political opportunities, the IB team deploys a streamlined process to meet the demands of the political campaigns. Above all, as with over-the-air advertising during the busy season, communicating with your clients is crucial. Talking to agencies throughout the process helps ensure you and your clients know the status of campaigns at all times.

The longstanding jape about Web advertising for TV station owners is that it constitutes trading “analog dollars for digital dimes.” To be sure, we won’t see digital political advertising close that big gap any time soon. But focusing on the digital political ad opportunity that exists in 2012 can bring timely revenue to generate greater returns on your digital-media investments.

— Reed Varner, Vice President, Digital Agency Internet Broadcasting